Monday, March 3, 2008
Palmer on Historical Notes on the First Codes and Institutions in French Louisiana
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
Historical Notes on the First Codes and Institutions in French Louisiana is a new paper by Vernon V. Palmer, Tulane Law School. It is forthcoming in ESSAYS IN HONOR OF SAÚL LITVINOFF, Moréteau et al. eds. (Claitor's Publishing, 2008). Here's the abstract: The attachment of people to their laws and their use of it as a proxy to continue their culture cannot be more graphically illustrated than in the case of Louisiana. The various links between a general history of the times and legal history in a more narrow sense cannot be divorced or overemphasized. Indeed a purely "legal" history devoid of socio-political context is probably just as misleading as a "general" history that makes no mention of law. Though aware of a need for balance, my purpose in these Notes is in fact to stress the legal side of history before and after the Purchase. One reason why I believe this has value is that there is clear linkage between legal developments in the two periods. I would offer only one illustration. The same kind of chauvinism in 1768 which insurrected against the sudden introduction of Spanish law would resurface in 1803 as a Spanish-French chauvinism now ready to defend a mixed civil-law heritage and to resist by all political means the introduction of Common Law in Louisiana. The link between figures such as Lafrenière and Livingston, who were of course widely separated by time and circumstance, would lie in their common defense of the legal status quo against abrupt legal change and their mutual dread of alien laws. The second and more important reason for publishing these Notes is that relatively little is known or has been written about the earlier period. With but few exceptions, historians who have written about the law and institutions of the colonial period have been non-lawyers and they have sometimes given us a rather fanciful interpretation of the legal documents at their disposal. This is undoubtedly due in large measure to the difficulty of accessing the original sources in the archives of Louisiana, France and Spain, but there has also been the difficulty of understanding the background legal context into which they fit.